Football fan or not, Super Bowl thrills hit different than other gridiron matches. Super Bowl LV, the game of the year, makes its fifth touchdown in Tampa Bay. Will Super Bowl parties look different? Sure. But celebrate we will. Two Tampa dads, Rob Higgins and Jason Aughey, share their experiences as both parents and professionals navigating family life and the NFL’s pinnacle game during a global pandemic. No pandemonium to see here.
Rob Higgins, President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee, and Jason Aughey, Senior VP of Sports Tourism for the committee, played integral roles in securing Tampa as the host city. Both rose to the occasion because solid game plans played out at home.
“Planning for the Super Bowl was a monumental task in and of itself,” Aughey shares. “But my wife and I communicate and strategize. Adapting proved challenging. Once we found our stride, I started scheduling time with the kids (7 and 5) during lunch. We’d do things like play basketball for 15 minutes.”
Higgins is proud of how his kids (16 and 14) have heeded health and safety measures. He explains that both are involved in competitive sports and understood that events would return if they did their parts.
Some chaos ensued as the host committee tackled March Madness and Wrestle Mania while working from home as children were distance learning. But the family units decided on what plays everyone needed to execute in order to win at pandemic life. Striving for balance, both men feel fortunate having jobs and families they wake up excited for.
The Tampa Bay Sports Commission is a cornerstone of Tampa’s continued growth. For Higgins and Aughey, work life (like dad life) guarantees no two days are alike. Both are involved in the entire process: from recruit to award to implementation. Sometimes, that translates to shuteye from 2-7 a.m.
“We represent this region, which means working at all hours,” Aughey says. “Spearheading efforts to bring major events to Tampa, we believe none are too big and there’s nothing we’re unwilling to do.”
Says Higgins : “From the media standpoint to the economic impact, the Super Bowl plays a big part in our community’s fabric and tradition. Only three cities have hosted more Super Bowls.”
Tampa’s no stranger to hosting during difficult times: 2001 during wartime and 2009 during a recession. Higgins is steadfast in the host committee’s belief that the 55th Super Bowl offers Tampa Bay an opportunity to share both its transformative story and a preview of its next chapter. He explains that the commission is engaged in a listening tour with community leaders to identify areas of need where investments could leave residual impacts. Partnerships with organizations like PNC Bank, Tampa General Hospital and the Early Childhood Education Coalition were established to help area families, as the commission feels entrusted to help Tampa thrive beyond Super Bowl Sunday.
The Super Bowl Experience, free for the first time in Super Bowl history, will happen along the Riverwalk and include programming in Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. Events begin at the end of January and run through Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 7. Aughey underscored that, due to fluid circumstances, planning efforts are ongoing: “Some will definitely go virtual.”
Super Bowl LV includes volunteer opportunities, too. As soon as they were old enough, Higgins kids began volunteering with the sports commission. While Higgins worked remotely during quarantine, the Higgins kids witnessed all facets of Super Bowl planning. “They’ve gained great perspective through seeing Zooms and asking me questions,” he says. “There’s no better feeling than when my two worlds collide. The keys of my life are the memories we create as a family.”
Fortunately, for Tampa parents, hosting Super Bowl LV introduces occasions for safely working, volunteering, and making lasting family memories.
Leading up to the big game, the host committee remains focused on helping local businesses take centerstage. There’s a particular focus on increasing attention for minority and female-owned businesses. Given the hospitality industry’s devastating losses throughout the pandemic, the Road to Gameday Restaurant Week was created: “We’re committed to helping residents and visitors discover more of our culinary scene, and a portion of proceeds go back into Feeding Tampa Bay,” Higgins explains. He’s positive these efforts serve as catalysts for recovery.
Of course, COVID isn’t sidelined because of Super Bowl LV. While the commission doesn’t know how things will transpire with capacity, they’re unwavering in attention to health and safety.
“We have weekly calls with the NFL and COVID is number one,” Aughey notes. “Many intelligent people are talking through all processes.”
No Hail Mary needed in making Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay a success. Longstanding collaborative efforts among the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, community partners, residents and business owners place Tampa in victory formation. The host committee’s playbook is unshakable. Rooting for people like Higgins and Aughey are life’s most valuable players—their precious families.
Super Bowl Experience
Free family-friendly events will span the Tampa Riverwalk including athletic challenges, interactive games and concerts with plenty of local food and official NFL merchandise for purchase.